In the morning I awoke to the train clumsily arriving in Denver with the blood orange sun rising in the east. Most of the night was spent alternating between sleeping across the seat I commandeered next to mine or sitting upright, lazy boy style. Neither of those strategies were too effective. On a bus ride to New York City some years ago I arrived at a stop in Philadelphia in the same sedated state and I still can’t decide if I can say I’ve been there or not. Denver looks tyrannically boring. I had read it is best to get a seat in the observation car upon departure from the “Queen City.” Apparently everyone else read this as the car was packed full of geriatrics. A tour guide soon grabbed the mic to narrate our journey and it became apparent he planned to rant for some time. He informed us the train depot was beside the Rockies stadium and that the team should get their act together. My little league baseball team was the Rockies; maybe I can gather the team again and we can go out there.
As I’ve reset my watch, I realize this not a journey through space, but time. I am engaged in time travel. If the USS Enterprise faces one contorted and contracted plane of time as it enters light speed, the California Zephyr faces the same plane as a vast sheet of stretched spandex. Those that will inevitably invent and use the methods of time travel in the future will age at a slower rate than those stuck on earth, monogamous with time. When they return home, they will be much younger and perhaps many of their friends will then be gone. On this train the opposite is true. You age quicker while your friends retain their youth longer. There is especially strong evidence of this all around me. It’s my belief all the seniors now on the train simply boarded it before me and have lost their exuberant youth somewhere between the east coast and Chicago. I will soon be this age. The train will disappear into the oblivion of the Rockies when I am to report to administration cart to receive my AARP card and establish my will.
The eastern pass of the Rockies shortly follows Denver on the rail. We climb along on switchbacks and occasionally the mountain has been sliced as if it were only an apple. The dark tan and green mixture of pasture and evergreen that sits atop these crosscuts are a stark contrast to the burnt orange color of the rock below, as if you bit into a granny apple only to find an orange’s flesh. Everything looks flammable. It is no wonder there are so many fires in Colorado. This yearly burn must send the land through constant cycles of rejuvenation. The houses on the other hand are of course lost. I have heard State Farm and some other insurance companies have filed a class action lawsuit against nature for insurance fraud, but alas no court will take their case. They are hopeful the upcoming years will bring justice.
We pass through the heart of the Rockies, approaching its Western slope.
Native American’s used to fling arrows at passing caravans, or so I’ve seen in countless westerns and paintings. It seems the Indians have been replaced by white water rafters, and the arrows by bare asses. All day we were mooned as we followed the Colorado River. This caused me to become deeply ashamed. Every one of those in the observation car was raucously amused, but I grew grim. I am the mooner, not the moonee. For the past two years I have paddled the South Branch of the Potomac with friends at their long running fishing camp in the highlands of West Virginia. Each Saturday morning we load the canoes with as much domestic beer as they will bear and drift eight miles down river. Along the rivers banks runs a train tourists take to spot bald eagles in the area demarcated as a bird sanctuary. It’s a tradition to moon these amateur ornithologists. To be on the other end of this exchange is a deep betrayal of my identity.
On to the desert.